Warns Against Paying in Advance

On Thursday, March 30, I experienced an activity that must be symbolic of the breakdown of justice in California. As president of the Continental Assn. that coordinates the activities of 150 nonprofit funeral/memorial societies in the United States, I had gone to Long Beach to offer testimony in a hearing conducted by the State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. The board had proposed changes in regulations affecting the funeral parlors of the state--and their customers.

These changes would: 1) give the funeral businessmen more of their customers’ money and 2) permit them to pay salespeople with their customers’ money, to promote the sale of prepaid funerals. The funeral industry has since 1983 tried to get these benefits by legislation. Now the state regulatory board that is supposed to protect consumers was proposing to bestow them by a change of rules.

After two hours of testimony involving the American Assn. of Retired People and the nonprofit societies--but dominated by funeral industry representatives, the board, composed of two morticians, a “public” member whose wife is in the funeral industry and two other public members, voted to give the industry yearly $40 for every $1,000 of the customer’s money held in trust for payment of a future funeral (up from $25 per $1,000)--and permission to pay for promotion of pre-need funeral plans out of that money. Could there be a more obvious example of a conflict of interest?

The nonprofit funeral/memorial societies do not recommend paying for a funeral in advance of need. For consumer-protecting funeral information, readers may write to Channel Cities Memorial Society, P.O. Box 424, Santa Barbara 93102.